Archive for the ‘Fall’ category

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Turnip Plantin’ Time in Tennessee

August 26th, 2009
There are good reasons to plant turnips even if they arent on your list of vavorite vegies.

There are good reasons to plant turnips even if they aren't on your list of vavorite vegies.

Turnips will almost never be the answer to the question of  “What is your favorite vegetable?” so maybe the title of this article should be “Cover Crop Plantin’ Time in the Mid South”  but it just doesn’t have the same alliteration thing going on.  BTW, it’s the last week of August, and a few harbingers of fall are already apparent – goldenrod in bloom for example.

Anyway, your summer garden is looking disgraceful (you know it is) and it’s high time to put all of those disease and weed ridden plants out of their misery before you get a visit from the homeowners association.  Hopefully you are planning to grow a fall garden, but even so  some amount of ground  is probably going to be vacant once you tidy up – which is where cover crops come in.  Any good cover crop will suppress weeds, prevent erosion, improve the fertility / organic content of your soil, and in some cases even put food on your table.  One of the main things that cover crops do is to absorb soil nutrients into their tissues as they grow so that they don’t leach away during the rainy winter.  But (to me) the main reason to plant cover crops is that they save work, because all of those advantages are gained with no more effort than it takes to sprinkle a few seeds on the newly bared ground.

The most popular fall / winter cover crops in my area are: Turnips, Crimson Clover, and Annual Rye.  They are area favs for good reasons, and they all have their unique advantages.  Rye probably does the best job of suppressing weeds, and adds lots of organic matter to the soil when you work it in early next spring.  Crimson clover adds nitrogen in addition to organic matter.  Turnips main claim to fame is the fact that they also yield food – all winter long in some cases.  Ask around (at a farmers co-op for example) to find out what works best in your area.

Whichever cover crop you choose to sow buy your seed by the pound (at a farmers co-op or or Real Garden Center) unless your garden is awfully small a little paper packet isn’t going to be enough seed.  Anyway, a pound of turnip seed should only cost 3 dollars or so, will last just about forever in the freezer, and contains enough seed to plant the entire state of Rhode Island – it’s one of those things that you should just keep on hand.  If you keep them in an empty shaker bottle such as spices comes in it will be very convenient to just sprinkle about – a good tip for all kinds of salad green seeds.

The other thing you should do with any of these crops is to completely ignore the planting dirrections.  One of those little packets will tell you that you need to plant turnips 1/2″ deep in loose fertile  soil which has been enriched with lots of organic mater – which is true if you are hoping to win a ribbon at the fair, but for the purpose of a cover crop just sow your seed thickly (thin later with a hoe if you want to harvest roots)  on top of the ground after you have pulled the old plants and weeds.  You do need to use a rake or cultivating fork to break up any crust that you might have, and you will probably want to rake it out just to be neat – but that’s all.  The main thing is to throw those seeds down and everything else will take care of itself.  If you water one time after sowing the seeds you will probably see sprouts in 3-4 days.

But, you say “I’m planning on mulching/tilling/fertilizing/planting something else long before those cover crops will be done.”  Don’t worry about it – when the weather cools off and  you get ready to do any of those things just do it  – until then your cover crop will be improving your garden for you, and if you don’t get around to those things until next year it will look like you planned it that way.

This is one of the best times of the year to work in your garden – get out there!

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Time to Start Your Fall Vegetable Garden

August 3rd, 2009
Start right now and you can grow excellent fall vegetables in your garden while those around you grow little more than weeds.

Start right now and you can grow excellent fall vegetables in your garden while those around you grow little more than weeds.

August is here and it’s time to get busy planting your fall vegetable garden.  While your neighbor’s gardens start to look sad with weeds and failing summer crops yours can continue to be productive for weeks, months or even non stop from now on.

It’s hot now, but soon the weather will start to moderate, the bugs will start to thin out, and soil moisture will increase and garden tasks will become much more pleasant, but if you don’t act soon it will be too late for many crops.

In my area of zone 6 it’s still most likely 10 – 12 weeks until we start getting frost.  More than enough time for another planting of summer squash, green beans, cucumbers or (theoretically) even another round of tomatoes if you can procure plants that are ready to go.

Most years rain is the big issue for late plantings of summer veggies, but so far this year the only rain problem in my garden has been too much of it.  So I have my fingers crossed that I won’t have to water very often, but if you do have to water it’s far better to install soaker hoses or drip irrigation lines before planting if you can at all.  However don’t let that concern keep you from planting – sooner the better.

When the leaves are falling your fall garden will be growing and feeding your family nutricious cool season vegetables.

When the leaves are falling your fall garden will be growing and feeding your family delicious cool season vegetables.

Aside from one more round of summer vegetables the real reward of growing a fall garden will be all of the cool season plants that do well as the nights begin to cool.  All of the brassicas are great in the fall garden – cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, collards, Brussels sprouts, etc.  Here in the south it isn’t too late to start these from seed, but it also isn’t too soon to set out plants if you can get them – check your local farmers market, and online classifieds as well as nurseries, and garden centers.

Keep in mind that the cabbage family does best in cool weather, but they are not cold hardy.  Many of them will survive or even improve from a light frost, but you have to harvest them before a hard frost or freeze.  In our area the first few frosts are usually far between and the season can easily be extended by several weeks if you are prepared to cover tender plants for the first few frosts.

The first step in moving forward with this project is to yank out all of those failing plants that are just taking up space, and looking sad.  Don’t hang onto failing vines just because they might produce another squash or two.  Toss those things on the compost heap – unless they are diseased or infested in which case you should probably burn them as much as I hate to say it.

Once you free up some space you need to consult a calendar to decide what your planting options are.  Calculate the time left until your likely first frost date.

If you have 10 or more weeks left of reliably temperate weather you can still direct sow green beans, squash and cucumbers – but you need to do it immediately if not sooner.  You also still have time to plant cabbage and other brassicas from seed, but if your weather is hot like it is here you should probably do that indoors.  If you can find plants ready to set out you can go ahead and do so now and any time until about 8 weeks before frost.  large heading types may take longer to form heads so check the seed packages or even better talk to a local expert about which varieties to plant.

Here in zone 6 you can usually set out most brassicas until the end of August.

With 10 or more weeks until frost you can also direct sow beets, carrots, collards, lettuce, radish, garden peas, turnips, and potatoes.  Carrots are pretty much cold proof in our climate and will stay perfect all winter long in the ground so plant lots of carrots in your fall garden.

At 8 weeks until frost you can direct sow more lettuce, turnips, radish, arugula, and spinach.  A great thing about the fall garden is that once nights start to cool off your lettuce will stop trying to bolt, and you will be able to pick cool season salad greens throughout the fall from only a few plantings.

At about 6 weeks before frost it will be time to plant lettuce and spinach to establish in a cold frame, green house or other season extender.  This planting will feed you well into the winter in many areas.  When the weather gets really cold it will stop growing, but on fair sunny days growth will continue.  It’s pretty great to be growing fresh salad greens all winter long.  You can worry about building a cold frame or poly tunnel later if you don’t already have one, but get those seeds in the ground now!

You can grow fresh greens like lettuce and spinach all winter long in a simple cold frame, plastic row cover or green house.  For best results though you want to establish those crops in the fall while the weather is still warm.

You can grow fresh greens like lettuce and spinach all winter long in a simple cold frame, plastic row cover or green house. For best results though you want to establish those crops in the fall while the weather is still warm, and the plants can grow more quickly.

Be prepared to keep everything watered during the remaining weeks of hot summer weather, and also protect tender young plants from marauding insects – row covers are helpful for both of these things.

Growing a fall garden is a great way to make your garden much more rewarding so get out there and brave the summer heat for a while to get one going.  You’ll be glad you did.

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Buy Seed NOW for your Fall Garden!

June 1st, 2009
Fresh organicly grown cauliflower like this tastes as great as it looks, and is a great crop for the fall garden.

Fresh organically grown cauliflower like this tastes as great as it looks, and is a perfect crop for the fall garden.

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating – When it’s time to plant the fall vegetable garden in July/August it will be hard to find seeds in many locations.  Right now garden seeds are available all over the place, but I’ve already seen the displays coming down in my local home improvement store.  Some are even on close out sales already – Buy Now!

Around August first I plan to sow cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, and late tomatoes as well as pansies and other fall ornamentals inside under lights.  You could also dirrect sow in the garden but it will be very hot and dry at that time, and starting my fall plants inside gives me a few more weeks to clear out space for them in the garden.  Also starting them indoors lets them get ahead of the bugs and weeds that will be in full swing in mid summer – but that’s another story.

In September your garden can look like this one with lots of fresh vegies and greens for the table - if you plan now!

In September your garden can look like this one with lots of fresh vegies and greens for the table - if you plan now!

A fall garden can double your fun and give you some of the most satisfying harvests of the year – while everyone elses garden spot is going to waste.  But you can’t plant it if you don’t have any seed!

Sorry I’ve been so negligent about posting lately, but I’ve been outside  – So should you!

Happy Gardening!

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Almost Winter

November 26th, 2008
Mid November brings the first hard freeze to my garden.

Mid November brings the first hard freeze - and frost painting on the cold frame.

I took this picture on our coldest morning so far with over night lows in the upper teens. Yet according to my tell tale thermometer the temperature in my small green house has never dipped below 32 degrees F – although I’m sure it soon will. » Read more: Almost Winter

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September in the Garden

September 11th, 2008

September in the Vegetable Garden

  • Plant Garlic now to harvest next summer – buy bulbs right from the grocery store, divide them into cloves and plant 2″ deep and about 7 inches apart (intensive) with the pointy end up.
  • Plant Spinach now for fall harvest – you may have to use cloches or row covers in a few weeks depending upon your zone to extend the harvest.
  • This is also a good time to plant horseradish roots (straight from your grocers shelf) for harvest next fall (and ever after – it’s a persistent perennial) but consider planting in a plastic laundry basket or other large container sunk into the ground (with drain holes of course) to keep it from becoming invasive.
  • Plant turnips as a winter cover crop that will also yield greens and turnip roots.
  • Plant crimson clover as a green manure/cover crop to turn under or cut for compost next spring.
  • Plant lettuce and other salad greens either to be covered later to extend harvest or in containers to take into a sunny window for winter greens.
  • Stockpile grass clippings for making autumn compost when leaves start to fall.
  • Use up any finished spring compost that you still have.
  • Clean up crop residues and generally clean up the garden as summer crops finish up.
  • Plan to prepare ground soon for mid winter planting (spinach in February, snow peas in March for example) while it can still be worked.
  • Apply lime.
  • Enjoy those last tomatoes – it’s gonna be a long time before next year’s crop.

September Lawn care

  • Spread lime if needed
  • Broadcast seed – early September is the best time for sowing cool season grasses like fescue or blue grass.
  • Consider adding white Dutch clover (or other small clover) to your lawn seed. Clover is good for the soil – birds love it, bees love it, deer love it (which may be good or bad according to how you feel about deer) and it makes great compost – drawbacks are that it is somewhat invasive (nothing like Bermuda grass though) and your neighbors will think you’re nuts if they find out.
  • Aerate if you get a chance after a soaking rain when the ground is softened.
  • Fertilize very lightly if at all.
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Fall Gardening Starts Now

August 16th, 2008

It’s hard to believe in our sweltering August heat, but fall is just around the corner. Time to think ahead. Have you ordered bulbs? If not, don’t delay. Daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, snowdrops, etc. all need planting in fall.

When I think Fall, I think mums and pumpkins. Mums are the very essence of the season. Problem is, they’re difficult to grow in the Deep South. There are a few good perennial ones that grow here: Sheffield, Ryan’s Pink, Clara Curtis, and Ryan’s Yellow, to name a few. They all have daisy formed flowers and they all tend to be pretty aggressive plants. I grow them anyway. But I want a deep gold or bronzey red colored bloom for fall. If I buy mums at the store, they’re expensive, they bloom only once, and if it’s hot outside, they don’t last more than a week. Answer? Marigolds! If you plant some marigold seed in pots now, they’ll be fresh and blooming by October and will keep blooming until frost, which, in my area, can be as late as Thanksgiving.

If your daytime temps are over eighty now, you’ll need to get the seeds germinated indoors. I sow seeds into potting soil, water well and drain for a good half hour. Then I slip the pots into Ziploc Bags and put them in bright light. They’ll germinate in a week or less, and once they have a set of true leaves, you can move them outside. Put them in bright shade for a few days, and then harden them off by moving them into the sun for a couple of hours the first day, an hour or so longer the second day, etc.  If you have a day or two of rain or very cloudy days, that’s the perfect time to move them into full sun. By the time the clouds are gone, the plants can take the full heat and glare.

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Fall Means Daffodil Planting!

October 12th, 2007

Daffodils on the University of Nottingham campus

Finally! At last! Autumn has arrived in East Central Mississippi! I know my brother, David, is enjoying the spectacular fall color in his central Tennessee home. I try not to think about that too much, and just enjoy being able to get outside without worrying about heat stroke. Besides, our color will show up in about another month. For now, I am grateful for temps in the eighties.

So…I’m celebrating fall by thinking…spring. The early spring garden relies heavily on flowering shrubs (azaleas, especially), cool season annuals like pansies, and bulbs. There are very few perennials that get blooming much before April, at least not here in the deep south. This makes me even more aware of the importance of bulbs, not to mention how early some of them get going! I get very, very hungry for flowers once Christmas is over. And nothing satisfies that hunger like Daffodils. » Read more: Fall Means Daffodil Planting!

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It’s Fall! The Weather’s Great!

October 1st, 2007

Here in East Central Mississippi, autumn is in the air (figuratively speaking.) Night temps have fallen into the mid fifties, daytime highs are in the low nineties, or even in the high eighties. Heaven! (You have to have been here for our three solid weeks of 100 degrees plus in August to fully appreciate this.)

So, what’s to do in the garden? Plenty! In the past week I have been digging and dividing daylilies. I grow primarily hybrids, and they benefit greatly from division about every three years. As I lift them, I dig in a half bag of composted manure into each hole, plus a sprinkling of Potash. I never seem to have any trouble finding eager hands for the extra daylily plants. This fall, I am planting a clump of daffodils midway between each daylily clump. That will give me lots of early spring color, but the spring daylily foliage will hide the unsightly daffodil foliage.

» Read more: It’s Fall! The Weather’s Great!